Developed By: Luminous Productions
Published By: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 5 / PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Review Code Provided By: Square Enix
I think much has been shared about Forspoken at this point that it feels like what was once supposed to be a big step for Luminous Productions has come to a very screeching thud. A brand-new IP which hopefully was meant to be a start to a new franchise has really been put through the wringer with a lot of complaints about the main character Frey, the barren world Athia that players will run around in, and how the experience was just a major disappointment.
I must admit that when I tried the demo it really didn’t click with me either and I was questioning if the full release would be worth it. Regardless of the loud discourse over multiple mainstream media sites I was perhaps morbidly curious myself and decided to request a review code.
Thanks to Square Enix, we were granted the opportunity to review Forspoken and I really got to be honest I can understand some of the criticisms that the game had but I really feel that this game is kind of underrated. It does a lot of things strangely and frustratingly, but it also does a lot of things well, so I enjoyed my time with it and appreciated it for what it tried to do.
We Are Naught But Dust On The Wind
The main character in Forspoken is Frey Holland; someone who is dealing with life in New York on her own and obviously not doing it very well as she gets caught up with unsavory characters and finds herself in trouble with the law. She then finds a random cuff in an abandoned building and gets transported to Athia, an alien world. It doesn’t take long for her to discover that Athia is in turmoil as it is being plagued by something known as the Break that turns humans into zombies and animals into Mutants. There is also the matter of the four Tantas (like overlords for each of the realms in Athia) that she has to take down due to their succumbing to madness. Luckily, Frey also discovers that she now has newfound magical powers which will help her to survive this strange world and hopefully find her way back to New York.
I enjoyed the story for what it tried to do. It’s an ‘Isekai’ tale at heart and from beginning to end I was entertained. However as good as the story was (a recurring issue plaguing the whole game) I could just see where and how it could have been so much better.
I quite liked Frey as a character. Sure, there is some cringy dialogue but for the most part, I found her to be quite refreshing. She isn’t just the typical main character who goes along with everything and has a funny quip or two along the way. There are moments that she reacts quite realistically for someone who finds themselves in a strange new world with magic to boot. She has a moral compass and doesn’t just kill people without any good reason to. There are hints of personal trauma and themes that the game tries to present through her character but because of how disjointed some parts of the story can be it doesn’t hit as hard as it should.
Cuff on the other hand can be repetitive but there is a small endearing quality to his companionship that does border on being insufferable. I thought he was fine but for those who can’t stand him, thankfully you can turn down the conversations between him and Frey.
The game also introduces a multitude of side characters like Auden and Robian but due to how things are structured in the game, the players will not develop a deep enough connection with any of them. Even the most endearing side characters are just mostly there to advance a quest or to have some brief dialogue but most of their character development is stowed away in archive entries that frankly have a lot of illuminating information. This also extends to the world of Athia itself and its inhabitants. Most of the interesting bits are as you guessed it in the archive entries that the player has to seek out including who and how the Tanta’s were before, how they governed, and how each of their realms fell apart when the Break happened. If you choose not to then your journey in Athia really feels like a tourist attraction that you pop in briefly and just forget about.
It’s also made harder where from the start of the game there are just a lot of fade-to-black moments and being locked into conversations while your character is not able to move. I get that they probably wanted those moments to serve as breathing points, but it resulted in the opposite where it can feel suffocating and tedious. This is then bookended in the Third Act where there is sort of an exposition dump that although nicely done, feels like something they could have peppered along the way (even though I guessed it as soon as I got to Athia).
Nevertheless, the main story was quite enjoyable, and appreciated my time with it. Focusing on the main quest, players would probably be able to complete it in 15-20 hours and I enjoyed the twists and turns that come with it even with the frustrating issues surrounding it.
Madness Is Like A Fingerprint
Graphically, Forspoken is a mixed bag. As seen in the screenshots in this review, Athia can be a very beautiful place but in motion, it is much less remarkable due to how barren and spaced out the world is. The art style feels like it’s meant to be a very alien-looking medieval-inspired world but at least for me it was hard to get attached to any area because of how similar everything ends up feeling. It’s not bad or unmemorable but as impressive as some locations can be, they are devoid of any sort of character. Environmental personality plays a big factor as I was constantly reminded of Elden Ring with some locations and yet every single area in Elden Ring feels much more distinct and unforgettable.
On the PS5 itself, there are three graphical modes, Quality for a bump in the dynamic resolution and around 30fps, Raytracing for better shadows and reflections but around 30fps as well, and Performance where the dynamic resolution is lowered to try and maintain 60fps. I play mostly on the Ray-Tracing Mode because for me that looks best and with the 120hz mode enabled it feels smooth for the most part but even after the latest patch it does struggle to maintain a solid frame rate in some instances.
When it comes to the sound design it is serviceable but the soundtrack itself is mostly forgettable not because it is generic but because it just blends too much into the background without heightening moments the way it’s meant to. One of the regions, Avoalet actually has an overworld music reminiscent of something found from the Harry Potter movies (that scene in Chamber of Secrets when following the spiders back to their lair) and honestly, that’s one of the few that stood out to me apart from the track that played in the final sections.
Being a PS5 exclusive title also thankfully provided some advancements including really speedy loading and fast travel. Haptics and the Adaptive Trigger implementations are also on the better end of the spectrum.
It’s The Hue of Blue, And The Bloomers Too
When it comes to the gameplay, Forspoken is quite a blast to play. The dev team really nailed how to make your character feel immensely powerful and moving through the world effortlessly fun especially when you have every available spell unlocked. Now granted initially the spells you have access to can feel limiting but after defeating each Tanta the player will unlock an additional spell book that is elemental bound (Default is Geo, Tanta Sila is Fire and etc). The player truly is spoilt for choice and switching between spells to combat effectively is quite seamless.
One thing that I appreciated more as well is how the game does such a better job compared to the demo at easing players into each of the gameplay systems instead of throwing the kitchen sink at you and you are just fiddling about trying to get comfortable with it. The accessibility options that the dev team provided go a long way as well because the default control scheme is clearly not the optimal way to play and tweaking each option really does feel like the player has direct control over how they want to play as Frey.
Now where the game kind of feels slightly disappointing is as much as there are plentiful Detours (side-quests) most of them feel very similar. This extends to the world activities as the ones you initially find like clearing ruins, time trials, activating beacons, clearing dungeons, or following a cat are just repeated everywhere and really take away from providing the player any incentive beyond collecting items or improving stats gradually at wanting to complete every activity on the world map. It’s funny how Ubisoft once had backlash for having banal overworld activities but has since moved forward into trying to make each sidequest or activity unique and yet here we are with Forspoken in 2023.
What I Liked
- Story – It was a typical Isekai tale, but I really enjoyed it for the most part. I like Frey as a character but it’s disappointing how the side characters were average.
- Gameplay – Traversing and battling across Athia was always a joy as the gameplay freedom afforded to the player as Frey was truly magical. Wielding powerful magics always resulted in epic moments.
- Haptics & Adaptive Triggers – I really liked the implementation and execution of how different terrains and magics feel when running around or in combat.
What Really Should Have Been Better
- Side Quests & World Activities – The Detours are not plentiful and yet most of them fall to the typical JRPG fetch quest structure and are all too similar including world activities.
- Minor Janky Bugs – Framerate drops and assets not loading although not plentiful popped up at really unfortunate moments.
- Bringing Modern RPG Worldbuilding – I get what they were trying to do but there is just so much that feels like a generation or two behind and yet still exists in a game that comes out in 2023 especially when other companies are moving forward.
All Will Be Well
Forspoken is quite a perplexing game. When I described it to my colleague who asked how it was, I said that this game feels so much like a traditional JPRG but then they tried to somehow westernize it but it ends up feeling like neither. It does so many things right but at the same time, it also does a lot weirdly or just straight-up wrong but is this a bad game? Absolutely not.
This game might be considered one of the most flawed gems that have come out in recent years due to how when it works, it really fires on all cylinders but then it constantly reminds you of how underdeveloped things that really should have been more are. The gameplay is great, but the world is barren with very repetitive activities. The art style is amazing, but the environments and characters feel just slightly like afterthoughts. The story is great but is highly dependent on the player being just curious enough to seek out more otherwise it feels kind of brisk. And it just adds up.
Personally, I really liked the best of it but I also didn’t hate the worst, I merely wished it was better and truly if it was this could have been one of the best new IP releases in a long time. I do fear that this dev team might not get another crack at it but I really hope they do. I really want them to nail the potential they only glimpsed in this game.
The same colleague asked me if I could recommend this game. I really want to but taste and tolerance are subjective. I do feel this game is most definitely worth giving a chance because those early scathing reviews really didn’t do it justice.